April 08, 2006

Herman Daly on migration

A new paper by Herman Daly in the journal Ecological Economics (found here) shows the difficulty of telling apart the extreme left and the extreme right [I add my comments in bold]:
[W]hat if globalization began to entail the overt encouragement of free migration? Even some free trade advocates might recoil from the radical cosmopolitanism of such a policy. [Not me, you bet.] [...] In the face of unlimited migration, how could any national community maintain a minimum wage, a welfare program, subsidized medical care, or a public school system? [Those things would be difficult to maintain because people would migrate from those nations to more prosperous ones with less government intervention. People try to leave Cuba and North Korea for capitalist countries, and not the reverse.] [H]ow [could] a country reap the benefit of educational investments made in its own citizens if those citizens are totally free to emigrate? [It is better to build an electrified fence around the country so no one can flee.]

To some this skepticism will sound like a nationalistic negation of world community. It is not. [It is.] For mainstream—neoclassical—economists, only the individual is real; community is just a misleading name for an aggregate of individuals. From that perspective, national communities impose "distorting" interferences upon the individualistic free market, and their disintegration is not a cost but something to be welcomed. [I agree.]

Few would deny that some migration is a very good thing—but this discussion concerns
free migration, where "free" means deregulated, uncontrolled, unlimited, as in "free" trade, or "free" capital mobility, or "free" reproduction. One must also be intensely mindful that immigrants are people, frequently disadvantaged people. It is a terrible thing to be "anti-immigrant." Immigration, however, is a policy, not a person, and one can be "anti-immigration," or more accurately "pro-immigration limits" without in the least being anti-immigrant. [One can't.]

A more workable moral guide is the recognition that, as a member of a national community, one's obligation to non-citizens is to do them no harm, while one's obligation to fellow citizens is first to do no harm and then try to do positive good. [This may be workable but it is morally repulsive. I feel the same obligation to do good to Spaniards I have never met as to Indonesians I have never met.]


Free trade, specialization, and global integration mean that nations are no longer free
not to trade. Yet freedom not to trade is surely necessary if trade is to remain voluntary, a precondition of its mutual benefit. [Wrong. Free trade means that individuals are free to trade or not to trade. The fact that nations aren't free not to trade frees individuals from government coercion.]
Both the extreme left and the extreme right hate individualism, cosmopolitanism and freedom.

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